One of my favorite scenes in all of filmmaking is from the Shrek 2 movie when Donkey says to Shrek, “Are we there yet?” … “Are we there yet?” … “Are we there yet?”
And Donkey moans, “I’m just so darned bored; there’s no in-flight movie or nothing!”
And the “pop, pop, pop (sounds)” leads Shrek to yell “DONKEY, can you just stop being yourself?”
After nearly 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the Promised Land must have seemed like ‘The Land of Far, Far Away!’ And the Israelites were more than just a bit Donkey-ish with their continuous grumbling to Shrek Moses! To this generation of whom he had led from bondage in Egypt, Moses appeared worse than some old ogre from a swamp – being accused of leading them into the wilderness to die.
That is what they ended up doing there – dying because of unbelief. If you run the numbers, one person from the unbelieving generation died about every 20 minutes. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, they turned what we read in today’s passage was an 11-day journey, into a 40-year wandering.
But now in the 40th year, here on the plains of Moab at the door to the Promised Land, Moses delivers a series of sermons / teachings on God’s covenant law with His people – this being a sort of “second law” (the meaning of ‘Deuteronomy’) to the new generation. Note the word in verse 5 where it says that Moses began to “expound” the law to them. This is a very descriptive Hebrew word that literally means “to dig.” Moses was being very explicit with very clear instruction. And what he is beginning to do is to rehearse with this generation the history of all that had brought them to this place and time.
Fresh off the defeat of several kings and their peoples (see Numbers 21 about Sihon and Og), there was every reason for this new generation of Israelites to trust God’s provision – poised to reward their obedience and faith. But there was also every reason for the previous generation to have done the same – having been miraculously delivered from Egypt and given God’s law at Sinai (called here Mt. Horeb). It was time to inherit the long-promised land.
This very large area of land (far larger than where Israel is today) was promised to the patriarchal fathers generations before. Note how the land’s acquisition is spoken of in terms of a “done deal.” It was essentially already given to them; their role was to take possession of it in God’s strength.
God has given us promises as well – in fact, better promises in Christ than those given to the Israelites. Yet the challenge is the same – to believe and obey … as it says in 1 Corinthians 7:1 “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”
The setting for Moses’ teaching
1 These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan—that is, in the Arabah—opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab. 2 (It takes eleven days to go from Horeb to Kadesh Barnea by the Mount Seir road.)
3 In the fortieth year, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses proclaimed to the Israelites all that the Lord had commanded him concerning them. 4 This was after he had defeated Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon, and at Edrei had defeated Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth.
Rehearsing Israel’s Recent History Since Leaving Egypt
5 East of the Jordan in the territory of Moab, Moses began to expound this law, saying:
6 The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. 7 Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. 8 See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”